1 Virgin of the Sun God
Lara: That song was inspired by a traditional mbira song. Then I put some kind of chant in the beginning from a Shona drum rhythm. The words refer to a kind of flirtation dance. The words mean: Do you see me dancing. Don’t you think I’m pretty? Do you want to dance with me?
The English part comes from this crazy book I was reading. Apparently the book was channeled by this Brazilian woman about Mary Magdalene; about what happened during the time of Jesus Christ. It is really obscurely written. It had passages like “we knew the one who turned himself into the sun and then the world began as one.” The language and the perception of time in the book is really vast and otherworldly. I wanted to write something kind of archaic and a little bit mythological like that.
The song title comes from an Yma Sumac song. My dad was big fan of hers. In the ’50s, this woman was a wild pagan enchantress from the Andes in Peru, with an incredible four or five octave vocal range. I have a couple of 78s of hers. One of the songs has the same name.
2 White Elephant
Maya: One of my favorite songs. [Laughter, sarcasm.] It’s an instrumental. I play cowbell on that song and get a lot of compliments. [More laughter]
Ezra: “White Elephant” marries the overlapping 6/4 rhythms of Ethiopian pop with dubbed-out Fender Rhodes keyboard effects.
Lara: It started out as part of another song, which ended up becoming two songs. This song is actually from Mali. Somebody taught me the song lyrics and melody. And I think the name may be a reference to another song we do called “Black Rhino.”
3 Holy Ghost Invasion
Maya: The story behind this song is the story behind our arrival to Lagos, Nigeria. When we got into the city, our hearts were beating. It was a totally different experience for us. It was wall-to-wall people, and everyone is selling something. Everyone has things for sale on their heads, which is a really smart place to put it. It appeared to be just absolute anarchy in my mind. All the cars are beaten up and everyone is trying to squeeze two lanes out of one. There’s no emission control, and trash is piled high and then burned, so the sky is black.
It was packed with activity. It felt dangerous and thrilling. Everyone had a little shack, trying to sell something. There might be a shoe store, next to a beauty salon. And some were like little apothecaries. But whatever they were selling they had hand-painted signs—maybe a picture of a doctor healing someone or pictures of what they would sell—or messages, like “All you have is all you need” or “You don’t have to suffer.” Many of these shack-markets had outrageous names, often with a Christian theme. In West Africa they say it’s fifty percent Christian, fifty percent Muslim, and one hundred percent juju. I remember one place was called “I saw the Blood of Jesus Beauty Salon.” People there are just so creative in the way they express themselves. It’s so different than the Western way of worship.
The lyrics from “Holy Ghost Invasion” were taken from signs that Lara had written down in poem form in her journal. We were looking at them and we just started singing them. As we were playing them we started to feel Africa again. The words told their own story. It happened on its own. The signs were pure poetry. We didn’t need to do anything to them.
4 Bus Driver
Maya: We started this one before we went to Africa and finished it after we got back. We were writing thinking about natural resources, because of all our travels in a veggie oil bus. It was never finished, and it was sort of somber. When we got back from Africa, we were thinking of Chambers (pronounced in Ghana as “Chombas”) our bus driver in Africa, our hero! He was so big and strong. He used to drive oil rigs from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to Egypt, some crazy triangle, for eleven years. Our people back home had discouraged us from going to Nigeria, because of the dangers there. But when we met Chambers in Ghana and asked him if he could bring us there, he said “No problem. We take you.” He owned this bus and rented it to us, and he and his crew were really on it. “Bus Driver!” was calling out to him, but it is also the metaphor: Stop… look around you! One by one, everybody get on this bus. Literally, but also let’s car pool, but also the big picture, the whole world: let’s get on this bus together, let’s do this together. Everyone on the bus, no fuss. We’re a team, the whole world.
The trip was full of serendipitous meetings and flowed in this magical way. Especially going to Nigeria. People back home kept saying that going to Nigeria was out of the question, so we were like OK we’re not going to talk to you about our dreams anymore. It was like we were holding hands and running together. And then when we found Chambers, we got such a perfect guy to take us around.
5 Ago Mayo
Lara: We really wanted to call that song San Lazaro. The santería tradition was kept alive and practiced during the slave trade by masking the African spirits behind the Catholic saints. The African spirit name is Babalu Aye, but when they were not permitted to practice their spiritual traditions, it became Saint Lazurus, who is the counterpoint to Babalu Aye. He is like the wounded healer. He is personified as a cripple and a leper, but he is the one that gives relief to the suffering. He is the embodiment of suffering. This is a prayer for healing.
6 Ochún Mi
Lara: This is also a traditionally inspired arrangement of a praise song to Ochún, the African counterpart to Aphrodite, which is part of the inspiration for our name, Aphrodesia. In Cuba, there is something almost like a horoscope, a divination with cowry shells, kind of like the I-Ching, but with shells. When they give you a reading, they tell you who your spirit guide is, your patron saint. Mine is Ochún, the spirit of the river, the fertility goddess, the spirit of love and creativity. Like Aphrodite and Venus. I made up the first part of the song. And the middle section is actually from another tradition that I learned in Cuba, but it’s not Yoruba. It’s another tribe called Arará. But it’s also like a praise song to Ochún.
7 Every Day
Lara: This is a song that I learned in Kokrobite, in Ghana. The beginning is in the language Ga. We wrote the English part. The traditional part translates to something like: “Everyday people are shouting at me. What’s the matter? I don’t know.” Basically it’s asking why are people starting a problem with me, I am just doing my thing. There is a proverb in there too: “Only the charcoal maker’s hands turn black.” It’s a proverb about getting your hands dirty, getting into trouble. If you are not a charcoal maker and your hands are black, you must be up to something. For the English lyrics. I adapted it to mean, regardless of the pain and suffering of life, I’m gonna stay strong and I’m gonna dance and sing. Regardless, of how much suffering there is in the world, I’m gonna keep my head up and sing.
Lara: This is an Afro-Cuban traditional song that comes out of the pantheon of spirits. The words and melody are traditional, but one part is new. Agayu is the orisha or deity of the volcano. These deities are associated with forces of nature. It’s a santería song. I spent a lot of time in Matanzas.
9 World Under Fire
Lara: It’s a call for rain. And it’s about the land being impoverished. It also related to the current political situation and the invasion in Iraq; calling to put out the war fire. Going for rain is more of a spiritual nourishment, going back to the nature spirits and the spirit of fresh water; cleansing and purifying. In my mind, applying this call for rain is now about putting out the war fires.
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